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From the Bronx to Brooklyn, Confederate Symbols Come Down Across New York City

Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched a review of “all symbols of hate on city property,” and some have already been removed.

The push to dismantle Confederate monuments across the United States is not just restricted to the South.

Two streets inside New York City’s Fort Hamilton army base dedicated to Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are the latest targets in a nationwide movement to remove public symbols glorifying the Confederacy.

Brooklyn Rep. Yvette Clarke held a renaming rally at John Paul Jones Park on Tuesday morning with several Congresspeople and Brooklyn politicians. Lee served as an engineer at the Fort Hamilton army base from 1841 to 1846, and is one of the most prominent military figures associated with it.

“The time has come for the Army to remove from Fort Hamilton and other military installations the disgraced names of men who waged war against the United States to preserve the evil institution of slavery,” Clarke spokesman Patrick Rheaume told Hyperallergic. “It is clear that these symbols remain an inspiration to some who espouse white supremacist ideology to perpetuate acts of terror and violence on the peaceful, law abiding citizens of our nation.”

Clarke made a request to change the street names earlier this summer, but the army declined to alter them. She has since introduced a bill in Congress calling on the Pentagon to change the name of “any military installation or other property under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense that is currently named after any individual who took up arms” against the country during the Civil War.

And now, after Neo-Nazis and white nationalists terrorized Charlottesville, Virginia, at an August 12 demonstration to prevent the removal of the town’s Robert E. Lee statue, momentum may be on her side.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other New Yorkers have piled on and demanded the US Army change the names of the streets. And Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that he would launch a “90-day review of all symbols of hate on city property.”

Bronx Community College’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans contains busts of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (photo by Jim.henderson/Wikipedia)

The directive may come as a surprise to some, but New York City has a smattering of statues and memorials dedicated to Confederate and other racist figures, most of which will soon be relegated to the corners of history museums.

De Blasio pledged to dig out a sidewalk plaque commemorating Nazi collaborator Philippe Pétain in the Canyon of Heroes.

Bronx Community College will replace two busts of Confederate generals from the school’s “Hall of Fame” after Gov. Cuomo and Bronx leaders called for their ouster. The busts ended up at the school thanks to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the organization responsible for so many of monuments now under fire across the country.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. proposed sending the busts to the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, “where they could be presented in a historical context rather than venerated.”

“They should not stay in the Bronx any longer,” he said Wednesday in a statement.

And Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres said he was “utterly shocked” to learn the busts existed and praised the community college’s president for moving them.

“He’s taking the right action,” Torres said in an interview. “It shows that what was acceptable a few weeks ago would be unacceptable now.”

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island uprooted two plaques commemorating General Robert E. Lee in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. Lee had planted a maple tree while stationed at the nearby army base. The tree has since been replaced twice, but the Daughters of the Confederacy marked the spot with a plaque in 1912.

Lesser known antebellum figures are also in the public’s crosshairs.

A towering monument to Dr. J. Marion Sims presides over a corner of Fifth Avenue and East 103rd Street across from the New York Academy of Medicine.

Sims is known as the “father of modern gynecology,” but the statue has drawn ire from the East Harlem community and beyond because he experimented and operated on enslaved black women.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents the neighborhood, called on the mayor and the Parks Department to remove Sims’s statue from Central Park. A Parks official told the New York Times that any decision about the sculpture would be made as part of the mayor’s citywide review.

The J. Marion Sims statue on Fifth Avenue, on the perimeter of Central Park (photo by Jim.henderson/Wikipedia)

The violence in Virginia unnerved public officials who say it’s time to retire Confederate markers from the public square.

“White supremacy and white nationalism contradict our core American values,” Cuomo wrote in a Daily News op-ed. “Those who carry the torch for those supposed causes, who feel empowered, need to understand that our country does not stand with them.”

But the vandalism and purposeful relocation of the statues dismayed President Trump, who argued that the Confederacy was part of America’s heritage.  

“This week it’s Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down,” Trump said last Tuesday from Trump Tower. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

Historians called his argument bunk. “You’re not changing history. You’re changing how we remember history,” James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, told the New York Times.

Two days later, Trump lamented on Twitter, “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.You can’t change history, but you can learn from it … the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

It is odd to see the President play preservationist and historian since he has destroyed artwork and falsified history when it suits his purpose.

In 1980, Trump purchased the Bonwit Teller Building on Fifth Avenue in order to build Trump Tower. The Metropolitan Museum of Art wanted him to donate two Art Deco limestone relief panels inside. Trump initially agreed, but when he found the removal would delay the building’s demolition, he had them jackhammered to pieces instead.

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More recently, Trump bought a Virginia golf course on the banks of the Potomac River in 2009 and added a plaque between the 14th and 15th holes designating a Civil War skirmish he anointed “The River of Blood.”

“Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot,” the inscription states. “The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’”

But no conflict ever occurred at that spot, local historians told the New York Times. Trump responded incredulously, “How would they know that, were they there?”

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